Strengthening the State of Forensic Nursing in Virginia
During the 2019 General Assembly Session I had the great pleasure of starting a conversation on the lack of information on the Forensic Nursing Programs and Forensic Nurse Examiners in the Commonwealth.
Currently, Virginia has only 14 forensic nursing programs in the state, leaving all of North-West, South-West and any location south of Petersburg without proper access to forensic nursing care. This results in numerous abused children, assaulted women, and battered adults and elderly going to hospitals where they are told to drive hours to the nearest facility with a forensic nursing team. Alternatively, these crime victims are admitted to the hospital where their wounds are medically treated, no evidence is collected, and they are referred to the police without the forensic samples needed to convict their assailant.
Having served as a sexual assault crisis counselor, I have stood by women in hospitals as their advocate during some of the worst moments of their lives. I understand how essential it is to have access to trained Forensic Nurses who are able to see these patients, properly assess their abuse and collect needed evidence, and unfortunately, not every victim in the Commonwealth is provided with the same access. This is a disservice to our children and those Virginians looking for support and justice after a very traumatic experience. We must gain a better understanding of the state of forensic nursing in the Commonwealth and find solutions which will allow every Virginian access to someone who is properly trained.
Forensic Nurse Examiners are an integral part of the system that allows victims of abuse access to justice. In previous legislative years, we have passed provisions and funded programs which would assist with the backlog of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits and would allow the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and their partnering labs to gain the tools and staff needs to better meet the needs of the Commonwealth. Yet, if we do not have properly trained nurses available to collect evidence, the pathway to justice for victims of assault is minimized and evidence collected may be compromised.
The issue of access to forensic nursing goes beyond sexual assault and exploitation of women and greatly impacts our children and elders. As state agencies continue to study the state of forensic nursing in the Commonwealth, I personally will look for solutions to fix the state of forensic nursing in Virginia. The more we support and empower those who provide proper medical assistance to those who have been abused, the more we are empowering the survivors and are providing an easier pathway to justice for those who take their cases of abuse to the courts.
In partnership with hospital systems, nonprofit organizations, and various service providers, I will support future initiatives which will help grow our understanding of the state of forensic nursing and forensic nursing programs in the Commonwealth. With further knowledge, we will be able to grow a stronger and more victim-centered Commonwealth and health system.